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Don't be defensive. Christians need to lament and repent of racism

I was raised within a Hindu Brahmin caste home, before converting to Christianity at university. I know from experience that caste prejudice is intrinsic to Indian society, just as racism is intrinsic to Western society.

Racism is absorbed through our socialisation. In Acts 10, God demolished Peter’s prejudice against Gentiles, yet in Antioch past socialisation and fear led him back to prejudicial behaviour, which Paul rebuked. (Galatians 2:11-13)

Today, British society is waking up to the fact that many black and other minority ethnic people have not been listened to for far too long. Now is the time for white Christians to listen to black and minority ethnic communities without being defensive. When I dialogue with people who experience caste prejudice, I am quick to listen, hardly speak, and am only angered by the injustices they have suffered (James 1:19).

We’re taught not to deny sin, yet many white Christians assert they are free of racism. I know I will always be in recovery from caste prejudice.

I believe white Christians could make significant progress by accepting Barbara Trepagnier’s invitation to abandon the 'racist/not racist' dichotomy and instead accept that they are on a 'less racist to more racist' continuum. Trepagnier shares that they can become less racist through becoming more race aware, by asking black people to point out their racism blind spots.

In his blog, Robertson argues the Church's approach should be intelligent, rational and compassionate. But the Western Church’s ‘intelligent’ misreading of the biblical text has led it to justify the enslavement and subjugation of humans made in God’s image, and we live with the consequences. Therefore, the best place to start is not with the head, but with the heart by lamenting and repenting.

Robertson sides with the founding fathers of America that “all people are created equal”, but may be unaware that some were slave owners. At the time many did not consider black people to be human and the murder of George Floyd shows that some still think that way.

Slavery and injustice still exist for the same reasons as before: monetary greed and the dehumanisation of humans made in God’s image. Past prejudice and discrimination led to the West’s ill-gotten wealth, privilege and power, which should be repented of and costly steps taken, e.g. paying reparations, to redress some of those injustices.

We’re taught not to deny sin, yet many white Christians assert they are free of racism

I don’t endorse all aspects of Black Lives Matter (BLM), but their slogan, “No justice, no peace” is scriptural. In Isaiah 59 the prophet laments the absence of truth and justice, hence there’s no peace, but God acts. He has ultimately acted at the cross where the truth of sin is writ large, justice accomplished and our peace procured (Isaiah 53) Almost all Western denominations have profited from the dehumanising acts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but are far too slow to own their truth and do justice that there may be peace. Christ’s philosophy first requires us to remove our plank.

Robertson is right to say we are all one in Christ. But sadly, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King observed, 11am on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour. Countless individuals from the Windrush generation recount painful stories of how white churches told them not to come back, which partly led to the formation of black led churches. Many white Christians are woefully ignorant of the sins within their nation’s and church’s history; consequently, they make well-intentioned but ill-informed statements, which don’t help matters.

Robertson says "we should not boast about our own right-on-ness" but when the powerful and privileged publicise that they’re acting in genuine and humble solidarity with the oppressed, it can help. There's no need to criticise those who are helping.

Robertson thinks BLM protests have set back race relations in the UK and US by 20 years. He may be right, but not because of BLM protests. When Pharaoh realised the Israelites had left, he marched out to recapture them (Exodus 14). The Judaizers sought to bring Gentile converts under the Mosaic law (Acts 15). Power and privilege are never willingly relinquished; white hegemonic power will seek to reassert its dominance, and sadly will probably succeed.

Robertson states that marching will not achieve much and that we should not endorse violence, but he offers no compelling alternative. The non-violent protest movements led by Gandhi and Dr King, achieved much through marching, and even more through economic boycotts. So, let’s keep marching and work to make an economic impact, thereby being a prophetic irritant to today’s Pharaohs, who’ll eventually relent.

The possibility of true unity in Christ has been marred by racism within the Church. It must be urgently addressed because we can only preach the gospel of reconciliation with credibility when we practice and live by it.

Rev Kumar Rajagopalan is the minister of Totteridge Road Baptist Church, Enfield. He was formerly Regional Minister for Racial Justice with the London Baptist Association.

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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